Friday, July 25, 2008

New Book Roundup: May/June 2008

What was all that hooey earlier in the year when the buzz had it that all the big books would be coming out way before the election and the Fall season would be quiet? There are lots of big books coming, many of which are listed below (and many of which aren't, because they haven't been reviewed yet, including forthcoming books by John Updike, Toni Morrison, and Thomas Friedman).


Home by Marilynne Robinson
A companion novel to Gilead? OK, now I'm even more motivated to read that novel. I adored Housekeeping (even liked the movie a lot), and I look forward to catching up with the suddenly (by her standards) prolific Robinson.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
I was charmed by the Moomins when I came across them last year, and this short novel for adults sounds lovely, the episodic story of a girl and her grandmother on an island in the Gulf of Finland. As it's a reissue and not a new work, reviews have been scarce but glowing.



To Siberia by Per Petterson
The success of Petterson's Out Stealing Horses was one of the more surprising publishing events of the last couple years, and this novel sounds excellent, if rather bleak. It was actually written before Horses, in 1996, and has been available in English before, but Petterson's success warrants a re-launching of the title.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
I'm late in posting about this book, which was out in June, but reviews have been steadily glowing. It's about the impact of the disappearance of a young girl on a group of characters. I know, bleak, right? Only that reviews say it has a sense of humor and surprising intelligence.

Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu
Consistently solid reviews for this story of a young woman whose love is complicated by the politics of the Ceausescu era in Romania.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
I'd originally skipped over this post-9/11 novel featuring cricket players in Brooklyn (call me crazy), but it received some spectacular reviews (Dwight Garner in the Times and James Wood in The New Yorker) and has become a surprise hit, compared by all to The Great Gatsby.

America America by Ethan Canin
Conventional wisdom has it that Canin is a great short story writer but struggles with novels and that this is his finest attempt yet. That's where the consensus ends.

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster
Early reviews are mostly very strong for the latest novel by Auster. It's the first thing he's written in a while that I can imagine wanting to read.

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Orphans and scallywags in this historical picaresque that sounds a bit like Robert Louis Stevenson or Charles Dickens.

Goldengrove by Francine Prose
It's early yet, and reviews are still coming in, but after having read Reading Like a Writer, there's no way I could skip over this novel.

Indignation by Philip Roth
Another gem of a novella from Roth, set in Winesburg, Ohio. Stellar reviews.

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The reviews are lining up for what looks, to me, like a book that would appeal to the hip fiction crowd. "A romance spanning centuries" was the turn of phrase (thank you, Kirkus) that finally made this book sound potentially appealing to me.

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
Another girls' prep-school story, but it sounds good, has been compared to Donna Tartt who I really need to get around to reading one of these days, as it seems many authors want to make her particular lightning strike again.

Being Written: A Novel by William Conescu
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
I was quite surprised to see Amazon pick Galchen's book as a highlight of the month. Along with Tom McCarthy's Remainder, these seem to be part of a minor trend (back?) towards philosophical / postmodern / metafictional novels. David Foster Wallace, are you working on something new, by any chance?

Timeskipper by Stefano Benni
This "quasi-fantasy," or work of Italian "magical realism" (as two reviews have it) sounds very Italian and rather interesting.

The Club of Angels by Luis Fernando Verissimo
Celebrated writer's novella is back in print, and Booklist warns us not to miss this second chance.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
A hit in Europe, this philosophical French novel sounds rather strange, with one critic calling it "precious" and another calling it "elegant" and "refined."

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
Written from a nine-year-old's point of view, bad spelling and all, this is the story of an English family which flees to Rome to escape a stalker father. Some absolute raves.

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant
A rough tale of crime and passion (and Depression Era bootlegging) which features Sherwood Anderson as a secondary character. Based on a true story?

The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls by John R. King
Some raves for this imagining of what happened after that legendary encounter. Sherlockians know what I mean.

The Development by John Barth
I read one of these stories in Best American Short Stories last year where it was one of the highlights, comic yet thoughtful.

A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
I was intrigued by Adrian's novel The Children's Hospital yet put off by its density - wouldn't mind getting a shorter introduction to his work, and he definitely sounds like an author with consistent themes and interests.

Old Devil Moon by Christopher Fowler
Includes a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, "The Lady Downstairs," told from the perspective of the detective's landlady. Sounds fun.

Vermeer's Milkmaid by Manuel Rivas
Galicia, Spain, is the setting for this collection of 16 stories.

Wifeshopping by Steven Wingate
Sounds like a collection worth picking up, at least for the highlights.

Young Irelanders by Gerard Donovan
I've been meaning to read something by this Irish writer, been hearing good things. A story of two from this collection might just make me a fan.

Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten by Thomas M. Disch
Sounds like a typically heady outing from the (late) cult author.

Replay by Ken Grimwood
After a rave recommendation on NPR, this work of fantasy from the 80s, about a couple who get to live out the classic "if you could go back to your childhood knowing what you know now..." scenario, has started selling like hotcakes.

The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins
Seems like one of the best-reviewed standalone fantasies of the year, and the Russian backdrop seems like a wonderful choice for the fantasy genre. (Yes, I know she isn't the first to use it, but still, it's fresher than the usual Anglo-Nordic backdrop.)

Ink and Steel: A Novel of the Promethean Age and Hell and Earth: A Novel of the Promethean Age by Elizabeth Bear
Two-part story of magic in the Elizabethan court, featuring Christopher Marlowe and Will Shakespeare.

More Noteworthy Fiction:
Darker Mask: Heroes from the Shadows ed. by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers
Death of the Author by Gilbert Adair
Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno
Diary of a Blood Donor by Mati Unt
Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
A Quiet Adjustment by Benjamin Markovits
Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Slumberland by Paul Beatty
Two Marriages by Phillip Lopate
Valfierno: The Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa by Martin Caparros
The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection ed. by Gardner Dozois


Put on a Happy Face by Charles Strouse
I've seen three raves for this Broadway memoir from the man who wrote Annie and Bye Bye Birdie. Booklist: refreshingly "free of ego and bitterness."

Harlan Ellison's Watching by Harlan Ellison (intro by Leonard Maltin)
SF writer Ellison wrote film criticism?

We're Going to See the Beatles!: An Oral History of Beatlemania as Told by the Fans Who Were There by Garry Berman
Yes, what exactly was going through the minds of those crowds of screaming kids we see in the famous footage? I've actually pondered that a few times.

Touch Me, I'm Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You've Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds
That title says it all, except that it's a follow-up to the similar I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard.

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature by Daniel J. Levitin
New book from the writer of This Is Your Brain on Music.

Catching Life by the Throat: How to Read Poetry and Why ed. by Josephine Hart
The Poem I Turn To: Actors and Directors Present Poetry That Inspires Them ed. by Jason Shinder
Both books comes with cd recordings of interesting people reading poems, including (in the former case) actors like Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Stevenson and (in the latter) Lili Taylor, Mary Louise Parker and many more.

Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot by Anna R. Beer
I had no idea this year was the Milton quadricentenary (December 20, 1608). Well, hell. Get the party started early, I say.

A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq by Fernando Baez
A history of book destruction which apparently includes a chapter devoted to fictional bibliocasts (there, I learned a new word today).

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them--A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
I might just be an expert on this subject. Still, I'm betting the authors have some more useful advice.

The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant
Roald Dahl, some sort of undercover spy? Apparently. (Though I think I've just exaggerated a bit.)

The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War by David Lebedoff
A slim double-biography that has contrasted its two prestigious subjects to acclaim so far in the review process.

White Heat : The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple
Study of a notable friendship between two literary figures, from the author of the acclaimed Hawthorne: A Life.

1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron
The burgeoning readers advisory field sees another entry - sounds like an interesting browse.

The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank
Few books have been as profitably debated as Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, and his new book is garnering excellent notices so far.

Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered by Peter S. Wells
Great reviews so far, for this book that promises to change our minds about those mysterious centuries - apparently, we've been biased by the Roman point of view.

Upgrade Me: Our Amazing Journey to Human 2.0 by Brian Clegg
Looking forward to the day you could live forever and upload data like a computer?

Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst
A study of alternative medicines that determines they are - guess what? - pretty much worthless. Oprah, get *these* guys on your show.

The Healthy Skeptic: Cutting through the Hype about Your Health by Robert Davis
The more I read about health claims, the more I'm convinced that most of the coverage we read (even of academic studies) is more light than heat.

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner
I'm always tempted by books that sound like Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear, though this one is coming at our irrational fears from a completely different angle.

13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks
Dark matter, cold fusion, life on Mars, the placebo effects and other scientific quandaries are considered.

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling
A psychology professor looks at our relationship to our possessions, an interesting topic well worth some contemplation, seeing as how advertising constantly manipulates our desires along these lines.

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken by Daniel Mendelsohn
A collection of essays mostly from the New York Review of Books, covering books, movies, and plays as diverse as Middlesex, The Glass Menagerie and Kill Bill.

Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes by Jim Holt
This is going to make me sound humor-impaired, I know, but if you really think about it, aren't jokes strange? Do you suppose any other species has them?

Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex ed. by Ellen Sussman
From what I understand, this is not a reference book at all but an anthology of fine contemporary writers (including Pagan Kennedy and Jonathan Ames) writing on sex-themed topics like "bisexuality," "kissing," and "adultery."

Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy
It's not actually all about sex (I know, drat) but is a collection of the writer's essays and articles. Sounds like an interesting collection.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
Weirdly, this book is one of the more hyped books of the season. Will readers go for it? With gas prices being what they are, perhaps it's a good time to stay home and just read about driving.

Collections of Nothing by William Davies King
The New Yorker reviewed this book by a man who collects, well, junk, essentially: cereal boxes, envelope linings, illustrations snipped from dictionaries. Apparently King mixes memoir with a discussion of his collection and his reasons for collecting. As I'm rather fascinated by the collecting impulse, this sounds very interesting to me.

The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude by P. M. Forni
I'm not the type to read self-help books, but this sounds really useful.

In Defense of Lost Causes and
Violence by Slavoj Zizek
You have to admire a modern philosopher whose ideas and style are so compelling, so interesting (it helps that he engages pop culture fully) that he actually sells books, not to mention movie tickets. Have you seen A Pervert's Guide to Cinema? Good stuff.

More Noteworthy Nonfiction:
American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century by Howard Blum
Best Thought, Worst Thought: On Art, Sex, Work and Death by Don Paterson
Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer
Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto
Drink : A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately
Ernie: An Autobiography by Ernest Borgnine
Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick
Fruitless Fall : The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen
Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic by Ingrid D. Rowland
I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage by Susan Squire
I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like : A Comprehensive Compilation of History's Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes by Mardy Grothe
Irène Némirovsky: Her Life and Works by Jonathan M. Weiss
The Liberal Hour: The 1960s and the Remaking of American Life by Robert S. Weisbrot and G. Calvin MacKenzie
The Not So Invisible Woman by Suzanne Portnoy
Notebooks 1951-1959, Vol. 3 by Albert Camus
Ousmane Sembene: Interviews ed. by Annett Busch and Max Annas
Polanski by Christopher Sandford
Sam Peckinpah: Interviews ed. by Kevin J. Hayes
A TV Guide to Life: How I Learned Everything I Needed to Know From Watching Television by Jeff Alexander
Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of the World's Bestselling Book by Donald L. Brake
Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip--Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by The Waiter
Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes (great cover!)

Of Gay Interest:

The Screwed up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson
Gay YA lit seems to be very popular with lots of people today, young and old, men and women, gay and not.

My Trip Down the Pink Carpet by Leslie Jordan
A coworker very much enjoyed this campy memoir filled with bon mots and Southern wit. From the guy who played Will & Grace's Beverly Leslie character, aka Karen Walker's arch-nemesis.

Also Noteworthy:
All I Could Bare : My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. by Craig Seymour
Anything Goes: The Autobiography by John Barrowman with Carole Barrowman
Band Fags! by Frank Anthony Polito
Closer to Fine by Meri Weiss
Every Frat Boy Wants It by Todd Gregory
Family Outing: What Happened When I Found Out My Mother Is Gay by Troy Johnson
The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York by Patricia Cline Cohen, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz and Timothy J. Gilfoyle
The Letters of Allen Ginsberg ed. by Bill Morgan
Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America by Thomas Foster (afterword by John D'Emilio)
Next in Line: Poems by Christopher Schmidt
The Palace of Varieties by James Lear
Queer Latino Testimonio, Keith Haring, and Juanito Xtravaganza: Hard Tails by Arnaldo Cruz-Malave
Schooled in Murder by Mark Richard Zubro
Sex, Love, and Fashion: A Memoir of a Male Model by Bruce Hulse
Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir by Scott Pomfret
Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South by E. Patrick Johnson
Worshipping Walt - The Whitman Principles by Michael Robertson
Writing Desire: Sixty Years of Gay Autobiography by Bertram J. Cohler

Of Chicago Interest:

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz
How many novels and film have been inspired by Leopold and Loeb's crimes? Will their story still sell as true crime/history?

Lawyer Boy: A Case Study on Growing Up by Rick Lax
Memoir of law school (DePaul).

The Color of Light: Watercolors by Winslow Homer by Martha Tedeschi and Kristi Dahm
Catalogue of the recent Art Institute exhibit.

Also Noteworthy:
Debunked!: Conspiracy Theories, Urban Legends, and Evil Plots of the 21st Century by Richard Roeper
Drunkard: A Hard-Drinking Life by Neil Steinberg
The Fifth Floor by Michael Harvey
Gunmetal Black by Daniel Serrano
Good People by Marcus Sakey

Graphic Work:

Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, Vol. 2 ed. by Ivan Brunetti
I like Brunetti's classic-comics meets warped underground comics sensibility, and I'm eager to see what he's compiled here.

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
It's been a while since a graphic novel has really grabbed me, but this one is getting great reviews and looks like a winner.

Also Noteworthy:
The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dan Haspiel
The Complete Peanuts 1967 To 1968 by Charles M. Schulz (Introduction by John Waters!)
Ex-Machina (Deluxe) by Brian K. Vaughan
Holmes: Haydn's Head by Omaha Perez
Shmobots by Adam Rifkin and Les Toil

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